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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 24, New Delhi, May 29, 2021

India’s Engagement with QUAD | Santosh Kumar

Saturday 29 May 2021

by Santosh Kumar *

Introduction:

The QUAD which serves to be an acronym of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an association of four countries namely; India, Japan, US, and Australia. The Quad was initiated in the year 2007 by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with the help of US, India and Australia. The very purpose of the security dialogue was to counter the Chinese economic and military influence and to facilitate dialogue and cooperation among the member countries. However the idea of Quad could not progress further with Australia deciding to pull out of it. The reason behind Australian decision had been suggestive of Chinese pressure. Again Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the year 2012 advocated the ‘Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond’ involving Japan, India, US and Australia to safeguard the maritime commons from the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific. Finally the idea of Quad was revived in the year 2017 and the leaders of these four nations agreed to come together again to take on China, particularly with regard to the South China Sea.

Recent Developments:

The Quad leaders met digitally for the first ever virtual summit level meeting held in March 2021. The most significant outcomes of the summit were related to covid-19 vaccine production, facilitating cooperation over emerging critical technologies, cyber space, and counter-terrorism and mitigating climate change. The Quad leaders also made it very clear that the body is neither a military alliance nor an anti-China forum. These leaders insisted that Quad is an inclusive forum. The four leaders declared that it is a flexible association of like-minded nations dedicated towards developing a common vision, ensuring peace and prosperity. The joint declaration of the summit called for “the Spirit of the Quad” and commitment for democracy, promoting a free, open rule based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-pacific and beyond. The four countries also supported the rule of law, freedom of navigation and over flight, peaceful resolution of disputes, and territorial integrity.

The leaders also agreed upon creating three new working groups. First being the Quad Vaccine experts group, comprising senior scientists and officials from governments. This group will be intended towards supporting cooperation among the Quad nations for Covid-19 vaccine and identifying obstacles hampering vaccine management in the region. The group will also coordinate with financers and manufactures to monitor timely and sufficient capacity expansion that will lead to wider distribution of safe and effective vaccine. The Quad countries will work to utilize their shared tools and expertise through mechanism at institutions including the United States Development Finance Cooperation, Japan International Cooperation Agency and other concern organizations. The four countries have decided to share their plans to support Indo-Pacific health security, Covid-19 response and figure out practical cooperation on ‘last –mile’ vaccination for hard to reach communities in need.

The second working group is primarily concerned with climate change is called ‘the Quad climate change group’. The group is to focus on cooperation between Quad countries and other countries to strengthen implementation of the Paris Agreement. It will be committed towards advancing low emissions technology solution and reducing emission. The aim would also be to foster cooperation on climate change mitigation, adaption, resilience, technology, capacity building and climate finance.
The third group is called critical and emerging technology working group. The four leaders realize that a free, open, inclusive and resilient indo-pacific region requires critical and emerging technology to be governed and operated according to shared interests and values. In this context the group will facilitate coordination on technology standards development, including national technology standards bodies and working with a broad variety of partners.

Relevance of QUAD for India:

India’s alliance with Quad partners is very important on various accounts. First, the rise of China has presented biggest threat for India and other countries in the region. For instance, the Chinese growing military influence, the PLA has become very aggressive on the contested border. Therefore, in order to counter Chinese growing military and economic influence, the cooperation from US, Japan and Australia is crucial. Second, with respect to the Kashmir issue, it is China that has always served to side with Pakistan while US has favoured the Indian position at the UNSC. Similar trends are noticeable with regard to the issue of terrorism. It has been viewed that although the US government has continuously put pressure upon Pakistan yet it is the Chinese regime that has protected the interests of Islamabad. Apart from these grounds, there are other equally potentially productive goals that could be met by India under the aegis of the Quad initiative. For instance, India’s active engagement in the Indo-Pacific region will certainly lead to the advancement of the ‘India’s Act East Policy. The Quad will serve crucial for India with respect to enhancement of its ties with the US which will in turn strengthen the Indo-US strategic partnership. India’s long-standing yearning of securing a permanent seat at the UNSC could be pushed further through its close association with the US. This can act as strong counterweight against India’s rivals. Another major area in which Quad can prove beneficial is with regard to the Chinese project of One Belt and One Road Initiative that essentially challenges India’s territorial sovereignty. What merits attention within this context is the attempt being made by India along with other Quad members to offer alternatives to the Belt and Road Initiative. Hence, the Quad countries as maintained in its summit need to make significant moves to cooperate with each other to pursue its mutual endeavours which will in turn counter China’s supremacy.

The Quad may help resolve other challenges that persist in the Indo-Pacific region too. An important focus of the Quad is maritime security. The Quad countries have emphasized on the need for a free, open and prosperous Indo- Pacific region. The expansion of Malabar naval exercise with Japan and Australia had begun in 1992 between India and US. The Quad will boost up India’s ability to cooperate with US, Japan and Australia to uphold peace, security and stability across the Indo-Pacific area. The expansion of Malabar Military exercise could be seen as an indication that will surely benefit India militarily. India having perceived Quad like other multilateral groupings will play a similar role to ensure strategic autonomy. This provides a platform to India to expand its soft diplomacy.

Critical assessment:

As mentioned, Quad as an organization will serve to act in favour of India on various accounts. However, it is imperative to briefly discuss that the success of this body will not come so easily. Although it may appear to be an association of nations that concern variety of issues and their redressal yet one cannot sideline the significance of China and its required involvement if Quad’s very objectives need to be achieved. With China’s increasing rise in the global affairs achieving the much needed Climatic goals, demilitarization of North Korea or for that matter the ongoing Pandemic that is wrecking havoc seemingly will not be arrested without the Chinese cooperation. In the light of this situation, discounting China’s role in the present age and forming an association that involves nations which have tried to counter its position in the past gives rise to various questions regarding its subsistence. For instance India which is a party to organizations like SCO and BRICS wherein China too serves to be a member-state and entail associations which project Chinese supremacy on hand while also being a part of Quad on the other hand that counters China’s role can only make India’s position dicey in the global arena. Given such a position it remains to be watched whether India would continue to be supported by the Quad members or even be backed by China through organizational objectives of SCO or BRICS. Although Quad does not venture outright negation of China’s rise yet its organizational structure involving members that have had problems with the Chinese position on various issues does make it a bloc that stands in opposition to it. Hence one can only wait and watch if Quad successfully counters China’s involvement as an association or its members-states individually continue to take on the Chinese rise due to problems embedded in the formation of such an organization.

(Author: Dr Santosh Kumar, Assistant Professor , Department of Political Science, Kamala Nehru College, Delhi University)

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